After nerve-racking uncertainty, an eventual seven-hour trip to the Rio Olympics at the death and a comical error of the wrong national anthem just before their opening match, the cream finally came to the top for the Nigeria U23 team as they stormed to a rip-roaring 5-4 win over Japan in Manaus early Friday.
Stranded in Atlanta for days amid a bizarre saga that saw flights cancelled over payments and other concerns, and seemingly left to their own devices by the football authorities back home, the Dream Team VI got off to a dream start with an inspired display to sink the Blue Samurai.
The Group B contest was evenly matched in the opening stages, with honours remaining even following a frantic opening burst that produced four goals in 10 minutes.
Sadiq Umar put Nigeria in front with five minutes in, before Shinzo Koroki equalised moments later from the penalty spot. Dynamic midfielder Oghenakaro Etobo put the Samson Siasia-led side back in front, only for Takumi Minamino to again draw then tie level all in a 10-minute interval.
However, when Etebo put Nigeria back in front just before half-time, there was only going to be one winner from then on. Etebo, whose goals powered Nigeria to the African championship in Senegal, completed his hat trick after 50 minutes, before calmly slotting home his fourth to make it 5-2 on 65 minutes.
There was still time for some late drama though, as Nigerian legs, expectedly, faded in the dying stages. Takuma Asano pulled one back with 20 minutes to go, and Musashi Suzuki narrowed the gap to one deep into injury time.
However, Nigeria’s night of glory was not to be denied as the referee blew for full-time seconds later.
It was a thrilling finish to an insane story, as the Nigeria U23 set about repeating the feat of the 1996 Olympic football team.